Writing Romance: Struggling with Plot & Structure

February 3, 2016 Writing  No comments

For the past five or six months I’ve been working my way through the second draft of my second novel (still no official title yet). 

And I’m happy to announce that the second draft is complete! (But, of course, there’s still a minimum of three drafts to go.) 

I have made it out alive, but not, unfortunately, unscathed. 

When I first started working on this book, I knew the four major events (plot points, turning points) that happened. I knew the overall theme and feel of the story. I mostly knew the characters. But everything else, I let flow as I wrote. I let the characters take me to places I hadn’t expected them to (which led to one particularly heart-wrenching scene). I let the characters reveal themselves to me in their own time (ah, I can’t wait for you to meet them). 

But I really tried to be cognizant of outlining and plot points and the overall structure of the novel as I went along. 

Because when I wrote my last novel, I had no idea what I was doing and ended up wasting time writing a lot of unnecessary scenes, paragraphs, and sentences that did nothing to move the story forward or develop character. 

So, throughout the second draft of my current work-in-progress, I plotted and outlined and made sure every word was doing something to advance the story. 

But somewhere in the midst of juggling beat sheets, and articles on character arcs, and scene checklists, I got tripped up and started stumbling. I did everything I could to desperately maintain a grasp on the structure of the story. 

My plot board - the product of my desperation and Virgo tendencies. Though, I quite enjoyed the process of making it. It's like when your teacher lets you make a cheat sheet for an exam, and in the process of making the cheat sheet, you end up cementing the material in your mind, basically rendering the cheat sheet useless.

My plot board – the product of my desperation and Virgo tendencies. Though, I quite enjoyed the process of making it. It’s like when your teacher lets you make a cheat sheet for an exam, and in the process of making the cheat sheet, you end up cementing the material in your mind, basically rendering the cheat sheet useless.

I’ve always enjoyed reading about the craft of writing because I want to do what I can to create the best work I am capable of producing. And, the technicalities of plot and structure and dialogue and characterization are all very fascinating subjects to me. 

But this striving for excellence took on a whole new level these past few months. To the point where it was almost crippling. One article on character arcs would make absolutely NO SENSE to me, while another one made perfect sense (Jami Gold’s website has been invaluable). But regardless of how well the author’s take on plot resonated with me, I could never quite make my story fit into all the designated boxes. I could never quite answer all the questions or check-off all the items on a checklist. 

And, if that was the case, didn’t that mean I was doing something wrong?  

I brought this struggle to a good friend of mine, a theatre nerd who studied drama in college. Because, I figured that if anyone knew about plot and structure, it had to be her. Right?

Her exact words to me, after I finished explaining my confusion in a rush of frustration that left me breathless, were: “Who cares?” And then she shrugged, all nonchalant and whatever-like. “Write it however you want. It’s your story.” 

Oh. 

Duh. 

In my quest for excellence and quality of craft, I’d forgotten that I was the author of the story. 

Yes, there are certain aspects you’re probably going to need to include in your story if you want people to read it and enjoy it for all that it is inside your mind. Yes, excellence and quality of craft are noble goals to move towards. But, at the end of the day, it’s your story. 

While novels and the written word are relatively new to the game (in the scope of the history of mankind), story in and of itself is as old as we are. We were telling stories and drawing on cave walls before we’d even figured out a way to feed ourselves in a systematic and reliable way (talking about the invention of agriculture here). 

Story is innate to who we are as humans. We are storytellers by nature

So, even if you don’t hit every plot point or check-off every item, chances are, you know how to tell a pretty good story. Because you’ve heard hundreds of thousands of them over the course of your life so far. Today alone, you’ll probably hear no less than twenty stories (if not many more) via commercials, coworkers, songs, shows, etcetera.

 So, I guess, I’ve just got to trust that I somewhat know what I’m doing. That I know the best way to tell my story. 

And, besides, who wants to read another formulaic, repetitive story anyways? Boring. 

(I also didn’t follow all the rules on my last book, either. And that turned out just fine.)

 

Until next time, farewell & may your life never cease to be filled with wonder and curiosity. 

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